CRESTVIEW — A hidden gem in the heart of Crestview is entering it’s fifth year on Main Street.
With spring officially here since March 20, the Common Ground Community Garden is in a state of transitioning out of fall and winter crops and into the new season. They’ve already started moving seedlings outside in anticipation of transplanting them.
Since it began, the garden has been an outlet for people from all walks of life to work together on a community-level project. The garden allows members of the community to come in and work a small plot, or multiple plots of land, regardless of skill level, ability or even income.
“We want money to never be an impediment for somebody starting to garden with us, and so we’ve got all the hand tools, gloves, seeds, seedlings,” Director Cathy Ward said. “It’s a really neat project because somebody can not know anything and not have anything and not be able to afford anything and we can help them get started.”
The garden holds regular workdays on Tuesdays starting at 9 a.m. After the work is done, they get together for a potluck-style picnic lunch, which usually incorporates ingredients picked right from the garden. Anyone is welcome to attend the lunch, which can be a way to learn more about the garden.
It can also be a place to earn community service hours, whether those hours are part of a program like Bright Futures or other civic-minded organizations, or they are mandated by the court system.
Ward said the garden has had people who started working in the garden as part of their community service who stayed on when their service period was up, and that working the garden has been a positive force in their lives.
“When you plant seeds, you don’t know what the yield will be,” Ward said. “It’s that way with people, too. Working in the garden can be planting a seed in their life and it may blossom into something lovely and productive.”
Ward is especially eager to get children involved in the garden. The garden recently hosted an event for kids that involved activities like rock painting, and of course, working in the garden.
“It’s a perfect place to bring kids to teach lessons,” Ward said. “It’s a perfect thing to engage kids. It’s just a great enrichment activity.”
Much of the produce grown in the garden ends up at the Okaloosa County Farmers Market. The market is open from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The Crestview location is at Old Spanish Trail Park.
Esther Phelps, one of the gardeners who is involved in the farmer’s market, talked about the diversity of the gardeners.
“We have a lot of different skill levels here,” Phelps said. “People come from everywhere. We hardly have anyone who was born and raised here. We have to adapt to our community as best we can.”
The garden is a non-profit run by volunteers, and like any non-profit, it relies on donations to stay afloat.
“We’re not going for government grants,” Ward said. “We’re doing this on a shoestring budget to show that it can be done on a shoestring. We’re trying to mix it up and do this in ways that conserve money and resources.”
Ward has worked with six other community gardens both locally and in other states to help get them up and running. She said most of them have come out to see the garden in action.
“I think every city should have several,” she said.